7 Retail Leadership Skills for a More Successful Retail Store

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Management can make or break a team of employees, but only if they have skills in retail and leadership. Sales leadership skills are tested as you navigate trends in retail and change rules for a new generation of employees.

  • Too strict, and few will want to work for the retail store manager
  • Too lax and the store can become the Wild West with everyone doing their own thing
  • Too unfocused and the sales manager won't give effective communication

Retail leadership skills for all levels of management

Business owners, managers, and shift leaders must demonstrate good retail skills and rally sales associates to provide the absolute best service to customers. Strong retail leadership is required to maintain morale and represent your store in its best light.

All levels of management should train these seven skills to lead a retail store to success.

1. The ability to make difficult decisions

Most retail managers are required to make tough decisions every day. It's a necessary, though undesirable, part of the job. Shift leaders will face dealing with difficult customers, making split-second decisions, and guiding other sales associates to make their own right decisions.

Managers have to handle employee evaluations, recruiting decisions, and terminations. They also need to make bigger decisions that could have larger financial repercussions - like scheduling and promoting.

When faced with a critical decision, your leadership qualities in retail will be tested; looking at the facts objectively can be hard. The old adage we see what we want to see allows some retail leaders to procrastinate or avoid tough choices.

The question to ask yourself is, "Is this affecting our customer loyalty in a negative way?" If so, decide - to provide more training, establish more concrete processes, or make a change to solve problems.

2. The ability to get everyone on board – even if they disagree with it

In the retail environment, a lot of factors dictate what happens:

  • You overbought too much merchandise that isn't selling, so now you must find a way to convince people they want it.
  • Your management team has decided to offer a new loyalty program that the staff doesn't think is very good, but they still have to promote it.
  • You get the picture.

While there are bound to be disagreements, having leadership skills in retail means you have to find a way to get everyone to agree to a course of action. That doesn't mean every employee will agree with the course, but they must agree to work together.

One thing that can help retail leadership is to make change a part of every day. Associates fight change when things have been left static too long, and they've been told to just deal with it. Leaders need to take the time for one-on-one conversations if they want to lead their team in one direction. Ensure you listen, give the whys of a new practice, and get their buy-in. 

3. The ability to give feedback on a regular basis

We have heard that Millennials want to know how they are doing more than most other generations. This is a good thing. It's important to remember that positive feedback should be given just as often as negative feedback.

Shift leaders need to know how to give feedback positively to keep the crew customer-focused. Managers must give more formal feedback about overall job performance and connect with every employee on every shift. Business owners must know when to speak up if the manager or team is performing poorly and to reward them when goals are exceeded.

If this seems difficult for you, put a reminder in your smartphone for each morning, Who will you connect with today?

See also: How to Create Loyal Retail Employees

4. The ability to listen

Shift leader skills also include balancing. They need to listen to other employees' concerns and remain open to management advice if they want to drive sales.

The retail store manager and owners need to listen to feedback from the team - especially their shift leaders - for issues on the sales floor, from a policy that is not working, to a defective product, to employees who are not doing their jobs. While it is easy to accomplish tasks, retail leadership seeks to understand what is in their employees' heads.

A good way to do this is to take the employee off-site to a coffeehouse and simply ask for feedback such as:

  • What would you like more of from me?
  • What would you want less of?
  • What do you feel you're not getting from me?

Don't get defensive with your answers. Just thank them and take action.

5. The ability to communicate clearly and with focus

Store owners must have a vision for customer service and be able to give expectations to management concisely. In turn, managers should be able to give clear instructions and feedback to shift leaders, who use their own communication skills to keep the rest of the team on-task throughout the shift.

Writing down your vision for customer service is a good start. Tell it to a friend and see if they can tell you what that would look like if they were an employee.

6. The ability to gain and hold the trust of others

Without trust, any team of retail employees will fall apart. Every management person has to earn each employee's trust, especially those they work with most frequently.

You earn trust by being honest, doing what you say, and keeping confidences private. Your team should feel you are out to develop them as a person first and an employee second.

7. The ability to stay positive

Working in retail can be difficult and demanding. It's not always easy to stay positive, but that's part of being an effective retail sales lead. Even when sales are down, management has to find a way to stay optimistic and confident.

Negative emotions tend to have a trickle-down effect, decreasing the morale of the whole team. No one wants to work with Bitter Betty, so be sure you're not enabling those behaviors.

Good retail skills include managing teamwork and keeping the mood up.

Nothing is all-or-nothing. If traffic is slow, you can find time to role-play or bone up on retail sales training so you'll be ready when it does pick up.

See also: 5 Retail Management Practices That Can Bring A Customer First Focus To Your Store

Retail leadership means different things to different people

Having leadership skills in retail operations means many things to different people. The one quality leaders possess is keeping the target in the future and providing hope to those they are charged with developing.


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